Amherst League of Women Voters Debates Removal of Policy Favoring Select Board, As Vote On Town Council Plan Looms

About 25 members of the Amherst League of Women Voters gathered at the Bangs Center on Thursday night, to discuss whether to remove or revise a printed position supporting a “selectmen-manager form of government.” Another meeting, during which the League will try to arrive at a consensus, will be held next Thursday (Sept. 14.) Members have been asked to prepare motions in advance.

Debate over the League’s position on the selectmen-manager form of government has arisen while a nine-member Amherst Charter Commission is preparing final recommendations for major restructuring of town government. The Charter Commission’s plan, to be put before the voters on March 27, would keep a town manager, but calls for eliminating the five-member Select Board and 240-member Town Meeting, both of which are elected. A 13-member elected Town Council would take on both executive and legislative functions, while the finance Committee would be a subcommittee of the Town Council.

Kathy Campbell, who facilitated the meeting, and others noted there is disagreement within the League about whether to take any action.  “It’s clear we no longer have consensus,” said member Janet Chevan. “Consensus is what the League can act upon.”

The League’s language on the Structure of Town Government is: “The League supports selectmen-manager form of government (1950, 1995)”

Although the words in question are few, discussion Thursday was lively. “This is kind of a technical thing, but it has meaning,” said board member Cynthia Brubaker afterward. She said the League has about 200 members.

In Saratoga Springs, N.Y. last week, a group  wanting to preserve that city’s form of government has accused their local League of Women Voters of being unfair, and refused to participate in its discussion of a new charter. A related article is here.

At the Amherst meeting, some member statements circulated. Adrienne Terrizzi called for “explicitly adding Town Meeting to our selectman-manager form of government.” Another statement, by member Janice Ratner, suggested keeping the sentence supporting selectmen as a footnote, if consensus for removal is reached. The League’s position “should maximize checks and balances,” between branches of town government, Ratner added.

Several League members spoke. Alice Swift said that if the existing language is left in, it will appear as though the League supports keeping Town Meeting, while others said its removal would appear to endorse the Charter Commission proposal.

Nancy Eddy was among those who called for the statement’s removal. “Why would a statement that was promulgated in 1950 have any relevance at all, when the League no longer agrees with it?” she asked.  Eddy’s remarks were echoed by Alisa Brewer, who is chair of the Select Board.

John Fox suggested that the language remain in place, but the League issue a press release stating that in the absence of a consensus, it will not take a position on the charter proposal.

The League has formed a committee focused on public education about the charter proposal, and is planning to sponsor a forum and information sessions between January and March. Another committee will be drawing up an analysis of the proposal and comparing it to existing town government, Campbell said.

Deleting the language would enable the League to be “more flexible and objective” in evaluating charter proposals, “unencumbered by a nominal commitment to the town meeting/select board form of government,” a flyer to members stated.

The fate of Town Meeting was not in question in 1950, when the existing policy was adopted. At the time, debate concerned hiring a professional town manager.

At its June 1 annual meeting, the League agreed to hold meetings in the fall to discuss the position, and included the option of its removal, along with separation of support for professional management and Town Meeting.




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